Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater: Two Directors Talk About Their Craft

Watching two film directors play catch is not a guarantee of interest. Put Brett Ratner and Jean-Luc Godard in a field with a couple of mitts and a baseball, and things could get ugly fast. But when the players are Richard Linklater and James Benning, the back-and-forth tossing becomes contemplative, a spur to ideas, and a salute to the value of getting in a good groove. Plus, both men have baseball in their blood—they both went to college on baseball scholarships, and have made films on the sport—so they actually know what they’re doing.

The simplicity of such a sequence fits the mood of this documentary by film critic Gabe Klinger. The film tracks a few days in Texas, as septuagenarian Benning comes to Austin for a tribute headed by Linklater. The two have known each other a long time; as Linklater says in an onstage introduction, Benning was the first filmmaker invited to visit the Austin Film Society (Linklater was one of the founders) in the late 1980s. Linklater would go on to make Slacker, Dazed and Confused, and School of Rock, but at that time he was a movie-mad film fan fascinated by Benning’s experimental work. Klinger shows clips from both filmmakers’ careers, including snippets of Benning’s long-take projects (13 Lakes, for example, composed of 10-minute unmoving shots of lake and sky).

In their conversations onstage and off—they hang around Linklater’s ranch for part of the visit—there’s some implied tension between their choices: Benning has maintained a monklike devotion to his non-narrative aesthetic, while Linklater glides between his own indie projects and Hollywood. One of the best sequences, not surprisingly, has the two men looking at scenes from Linklater’s current hit Boyhood (then in the editing stage). Both artists are obsessed with time’s effect on film, and the conversation here is a real meeting of minds. One comes away wanting to see more of Benning’s world outside film, such as his painted copies of other people’s work or the two cabins he built on his property in the Sierra Nevadas—replicas of Thoreau’s Walden house and Ted Kaczynski’s Unabomber shack. Benning may be opposed to telling conventional stories, but there’s got to be a story there. Runs Fri., Aug. 8–Thurs., Aug. 14 at Northwest Film Forum. Not rated. 70 minutes.

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